Defence minister Phil Goff should apologise for misleading the Foreign Affairs select committee, says the Greens' Keith Locke
Greens foreign affairs spokesman Keith Locke is calling for an inquiry into how New Zealand troops in Afghanistan handle prisoners of war, after revelations on Pundit that the country may have failed to meet its obligations under the Geneva Conventions.
In February last year Phil Goff assured the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee and the public that "to the best of our knowledge" 50-70 Afghanis detained by New Zealand forces and handed over the Americans were no longer in US custody. Goff said arrangements had been made with the Red Cross to ensure that those detained were treated humanely. He denied any knowledge of a report from "Danish military sources" that claimed New Zealand soldiers had expressed concerns at the "robust" treatment the Afghanis had received at the hands of the Americans.
However in September Goff admitted to Pundit David Beatson that the New Zealand officer in charge of the transfer had informally raised concerns about the US handling of the detainees and that no arrangement was ever made with the Red Cross.
Article 12 of the third convention requires a detaining power (ie New Zealand) transferring prisoners to another power (ie America) to have "satisfied itself of the willingness and ability of such transferee Power to apply the Convention". The convention says, "Irrespective of the individual responsibilities that may exist, the Detaining Power is responsible for the treatment given them," however it adds, "responsibility for the application of the Convention rests on the Power accepting them while they are in its custody".
Locke found Beatson's report "disturbing" and says "there needs to be a correction and apology from the government for misleading us. There needs to be an inquiry into what has been learnt from the experience, and what measures need to be put in place to ensure that New Zealand forces, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, are not passing over prisoners to be mistreated by others forces–in violation of international law".
Associate professor of Political Studies at Auckland University, Stephen Hoadley, says "it seems as if Phil Goff has been caught out", but says he's not convinced New Zealand has breached the Geneva Conventions. Beatson appears to be implying that American forces routinely mistreat detainees and that on those grounds the New Zealand SAS should never have handed the Afghanis over to them. "That's a big assumption to assume".
"As I read Article 12, if New Zealand hands over its prisoners to another power that follows the Geneva Conventions most of the time, that's fine. Whether a Labour-led government that prides itself on its foreign policy record has a political more obligation, that's another question altogether".
Hoadley says Goff's failure to meet his "political undertaking" to establish protocols with the Red Cross is a matter for the select committee. "It's up to them to tell him off if they see fit. The select committee is the aggrieved party here".